When it comes to the mindset of the censor, I think that Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s sums things up nicely:
Like poisonous, dangerous and addictive drugs which are not available for everyone without restrictions … as a publisher, librarian or an official in the book industry, we don’t have the right to make [such books] available to those without knowledge. We should provide them with healthy and good books.
Apparently there are books that should be available only to those with “knowledge”, and the censor decides that he/she is a person with knowledge that must protect others. This role of the censor as protector seems to be especially in play where children are involved. There is no shortage of people who would appoint themselves as protectors of children.
For example, This Guy, an assistant college professor, decided to review the curriculum of a local school board and did not like what he saw. No, sir. His unsolicited efforts on behalf of the children lead to the removal of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler’s young adult novel Twenty Boy Summer from the school curriculum and a local library. The books are banned. Ockler has posted a thoughtful response to the news.
I read Slaughterhouse-Five as a teen. I remember that it was that book in particular that opened my eyes to the possibilities of the novel. Vonnegut broke so many rules it was astounding to me. It was an exhilarating realization that literature, and life in general, didn’t have to be bound by convention. It was my portal to the world of experimental and offbeat fiction, which is the literary neighborhood that I spend most of my time in today. Thankfully there was no one with “knowledge” that decided that it should be withheld from me because it wasn’t “good and healthy.”
I think that efforts to censor books for children, but especially for teens, does them the disservice of underestimating their intelligence and their need to understand the world around them as it exists, no as we’d like it to be. Luckily, there are the occassional hints of reason that bubble up to the surface. A school district in the Pacific Northwest had banned Sherman Alexie’s powerful novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian only to reverse their decision a year later. The board changed its mind when they did something remarkable and unusual – they read the novel.
The book’s 14-year-old protagonist struggles with poverty, racism and death.
Those themes, and particularly the main character’s perseverance in the face of these challenges, bear important lessons for students, Donahoe said.
“When I’m voting a book out of the classroom, I’m denying parents the right to choose to have that book read by their students,” he said.